I Failed My Interlock Device, Now What?

July 11, 2019

Making mistakes is a normal part of the human experience. We all misstep—some more so than others. With this in mind, when you do screw up, it is crucial that you take responsibility, learn from it, and work to make amends. If you have been court ordered to install an ignition interlock device, odds are you’re more than aware that there are penalties for device warnings, violations, or failures. These deterrents are meant to ensure that you do not attempt to circumvent the device.

If you are at this stage, you are already on legally thin ice. To avoid breaking through that ice, it is critical to understand how the device works and how a failure could occur. Once that is covered, we can delve into the repercussions of a device failure. In addition, we will discuss some strategies you can take to prevent a failed test, including tips for avoiding potential false positives.

How Does an Ignition Interlock Device Work?

To understand how you fail the test, it is essential to first dive into the machinations of the device. An interlock device is a combination of two different devices:

  • A breathalyzer – Measures your blood alcohol content (BAC).
  • An Immobilizer – Attaches to electrical components in an automobile and prevents the engine from turning over unless the transponder signal is given. 

If you have an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle, you will have to blow into the device to provide a breath sample. The device will test your BAC to ensure that you are not attempting to operate the vehicle under the influence. Although it depends on the state, nearly all devices require that a breath sample contain less than .03 BAC, which is far below the legal limit of .08 BAC.

Operating the Low Cost Interlock LCI-777

Low Cost Interlock’s LCI-777 is composed of two separate parts:

  • The Handset – The piece you blow into for three seconds. It has a mouthpiece, a color display, a power switch, and left and right buttons.  
  • The Relay Module – The device that connects to the handset, measures the BAC and grants approval for the car to start. 

To use the device, you will have to first put the keys in the ignition and attempt to turn over the car. This will send a signal to the LCI-777 to turn on. Once it is on, it will give a prompt for you to provide a breath sample. Exhale into the handset for 3 seconds; there are no blowing patterns, humming, or other complicated breathing combinations, simply blow. When the sample has been received, the device will make a tone sound and a click—to let you know that you are done.

How Can I Fail My Interlock Device?

You can automatically fail your interlock device in one of two key ways:

  • The initial breath test
  • The rolling retest

Failing the Initial Breath Test 

Once you have provided a breath sample, the LCI-7777 will examine the given breath sample in a matter of seconds. After this, one of four things will happen:

  1. The screen will light up green and display a text that says, “pass.” This means that there was no alcohol detected on your breath. A signal will pass to the ignitor, which allows the engine to turn on, leaving you free to drive.
  2. The screen will flash a red warning light on the screen, indicating that some alcohol was detected on the breath, but the sample was beneath the .08 BAC legal limit. The car will not be able to turn on and will enter a temporary lockout mode. You will be able to re-submit another sample in a few minutes. Multiple semi-failed tests can result in a total service lockout. 
  3. The screen will flash a red failure light on the screen, indicating that a sample was provided that surpassed the .08 BAC legal limit. Such an outright failure can result in immediate stiff penalties and will lockout the car for hours. 
  4. The screen will flash a red warning light on the screen, indicating that it is time for the device to be taken in for recalibration. Recalibration is mandated and critical for ensuring that the sensitive device is functioning at peak capacity.

If either option 2 or 3 occur, the device’s data log will record this violation. At your next calibration appointment, the Low Cost Interlock professional servicer will check the logs and make a note of any warnings, violations, or failures and then submit those reports to your state DMV or probation officer. 

Failing the Rolling Retests

If you pass the initial test and set off towards your destination, interlock providers are legally required to have drivers perform a rolling retest within 10 minutes of the first sample. This test is meant to prevent any possible bypassing of the device and ensure that the driver was the one who provided the safe sample. When the time comes, the device will begin to chime, requesting a rolling retest. You will have several minutes to comply. Failure to give a sample or the act of providing a sample that contains alcohol surpassing the threshold will result in a failed test. 

If you fail the rolling retest, the device’s screen will flash red and begin making an incessant chime. Also, your lights and horn will likely start to flash and honk until you pull over, turn off the car, and submit a proper sample. These responses are meant to alert police officers in the vicinity of a failed rolling retest.

Note: In the event of a failed rolling retest, the car will NEVER automatically shut off. This would be incredibly dangerous not only for you but for other motorists on the road as well.  

Additional “Failures” 

Although these are not outright test failures, the following actions can lead to violations, which can result in similar penalties to a test failure. In some cases, committing these can end in even stiffer penalties than failed breath tests.   

  • Tampering – The law does not look kindly at motorists who attempt to circumvent their punishment by tampering with the device. In fact, certain states will automatically charge you with a felony for even trying. Examples of tampering include:
  • Unsanctioned removal of the device.
  • Tinkering with the device so that it is damaged, leaving it inoperable or partially operable. 
  • Taking the interlock device to an unlicensed service center
  • Having someone else provide a breath sample
  • Going to the mechanic and killing the power without notifying LCI and the state about the device power disconnect.  
  • Messing with the car or device’s electrical wiring to bypass the test. 
  • Failure to calibrate – You are legally required to take in your device for calibration every 60 or so days. If you schedule an appointment and no-show without rescheduling, this could result in serious penalties. 
  • Failure to pay – If you refuse to pay the mandatory fees, you will be declared as noncompliant and have the device seized. 

I Failed My Interlock Device, Now What? 

Naturally, you might wonder whether or not every failed sample is recorded. The answer to that question is yes. Further, the state holds you accountable for all breath samples, both pass and fail. The consequences for failure, however, vary on a state by state basis, and the reporting requirements for a failed test also vary. For example:

  • Some states require a report of all device activity every 60 days. 
  • Other states rely on the county or probation officer to monitor the device and report failures. 
  • Other states require missed or failed tests be reported within a week, 3 business days, or even 2 business days. 

As you might surmise, the legal repercussions also depend on your state. However, generally speaking, they can be quite harsh, especially if there are multiple outright failures. Common penalties include:

  • Additional months added to the interlock device requirement timeline 
  • An extended license suspension period
  • Driving on a suspended or revoked license charge 
  • Additional fines and penalties
  • Prison time
  • Vehicle confiscation and impounding
  • Withdrawal of driver’s license
  • Felony charges  

If you do you fail and receive any of these punishments, you will need to once more own up to and pay for the consequences of your actions. After this, it is in your utmost interest to take all precautions to prevent further violations of your sentencing.  

Is It Possible to Get A False Failure?

Although it is a rare phenomenon, there are some reports of interlock devices making false or improper readings. Breathalyzers analyze alveolar air, which comes from deep in your lungs and only contains small amounts of alcohol. However, sometimes as that air passes from the lungs and into the mouth, it can amass trace amounts of mouth alcohol left in the saliva, on the teeth, or under the tongue, thus leading to a false positive.

Breathalyzers are delicate machines able to detect even the faintest amounts of alcohol in the alveolar air. Since mouth alcohol is far less diluted, it can show up on a breathalyzer test in far higher concentrations than reality. Certain products that are composed of methyl groups, such as mouthwash, can show up as alcohol on a breath test. Items that could cause a false positive include: 

  • Air fresheners
  • Breath mints or sprays
  • Cleaning fluids
  • Colognes
  • Coolant fluid
  • Dark chocolate
  • Glue paint
  • Gum
  • Gummy bears
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Inhalers 
  • Mints
  • Paint removers
  • Perfumes 
  • Radiator fluid

If you interact with any of these items, you should wash your hands and mouth and then wait for 15 minutes before attempting to submit a breath sample.

Failed Calibration Appointments

As mentioned, although it depends on your state, you need to regularly attend calibration appointments to ensure that the device is in working order and to prevent false failures. During this appointment, an LCI professional will do the following:

  • Recalibrate and test the device for preciseness 
  • Examine the data logs and report any failures or violations 
  • Inspect the vehicle and the device to confirm that it has not been damaged or rigged. 

Low Cost Interlock is lenient with missed appointments and goes out of its way to help you out. If you miss a calibration appointment and do not notify Low Cost Interlock, a new appointment will be scheduled within 7-days of the previous one. LCI will notify you of this new date.  

If you miss your second appointment for calibration, a third appointment will once more be rescheduled within a 7-day period. LCI will send you notice of the third date.

If you miss this third appointment and do not provide a proper excuse as to why, Low Cost Interlock is required to report your noncompliance to the DMV, which could result in:

  • Interlock device extension
  • License suspension
  • Additional fines
  • Prison time

Valid excuses for missing an appointment include:

  • A family death
  • Hospitalization or grave injury
  • Serious illness
  • Military deployment

Be Smart 

It is fairly easy to avoid failing your interlock device. Take the following steps to ensure your safety:

  • Avoid having even a single drink before operating a vehicle.
  • If you interact with a product that is capable of resulting in a false-positive, especially mouth wash, give yourself 10 – 15 minutes before trying to drive your car.
  • Attend your calibration appointments.
  • Do not tamper with the device. 
  • Pay all of your fees.

If you do fail, the only thing you can do is pay the penalty and then try and do better. Your interlock device is there to protect you and innocent drivers on the road. Honor your pledge and fulfill your obligatory service, and you will be free of the device in no time at all.


National Conference of State Legislatures. Penalties for Tampering with or Circumventing Ignition Interlock Devices. http://www.ncsl.org/documents/transportation/Penalties_Ignition_Interlock_Devices2013.pdf

DMV.CA. Ignition Interlock Device Program Handbook. https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/wcm/connect/a740a869-12f8-4a1c-a195-6a042dc4010c/DL+919+N5-2015+WWW.PDF?MOD=AJPERES

ABC. Common Items can Cause Breathalyzer Test Failures. https://abc7news.com/archive/7186641/

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